Youth-Police Dialogues: A chat with Ontario Justice Education Network

April 12, 2018
Article Source
PLE Learning Exchange Ontario

From a PLE Learning Exchange Ontario blogpost: Guest author Michelle Thompson joins us today to share an interview she conducted about an innovative project that brings police and marginalized youth together.

As sole-purpose PLEI (public legal education and information) organizations, we are constantly wrestling with the question of what PLEI can and can’t do. We hear a lot of questions from community workers about how we can use PLEI to empower clients and support movements for social change. For over 10 years, the Ontario Justice Education Network (OJEN) has been carefully refining how we work with vulnerable youth around criminal law and policing issues. I sat down with Mara Clarke, OJEN’s Director of Outreach (MC), and Executive Director Jessica Reekie (JR), to discuss this process.

This interview was edited for flow.

MT: Thank you for being here. OJEN’s main policing-issues program right now is our Youth-Police Dialogues (YPD). What exactly is a YPD?

MC: The original request for a YPD came from a youth group at Scarlettwood Court that was experiencing issues with their local police force in 2007. We found that in other programs, youth wanted to problem-share, to talk about what they were experiencing, but they didn’t have the communication skills to talk about it in a way that was digestible to the audience, which was made up of lawyers or police officers. It would turn into swearing, shouting, crying, and stomping out. So their message wasn’t being heard.

With YPDs we still start with problem-sharing, but we move to problem-solving. We built a program where youth work on their communication skills, learning how to advocate for themselves and share their ideas. But they are also in a space with officers, in close proximity, sometimes learning something together, having some down time where real conversations can happen, and the youth and police both get to question some of the myths they have about the other side. Usually youth and police aren’t in community like that but for the times when they’re being policed or doing police work. So this is an opportunity to enter community without that baggage.

Read more: Youth-Police Dialogues: A chat with Ontario Justice Education Network